THE COMMON PHEASANT-Phasianus colchius

The common pheasant Phasianus colchius belongs to the Order Galliformes and is placed in the family Phasianidae.

The bird is a common member of the game birds that have resided in the U.k. for so long that one can be forgiven for thinking they are native to these shores. It is thought that the bird was introduced to Great Britain as early as the 10th century but became locally extinct in the 17th century.They were reintroduced during the 18th century on a large scale. it is now estimated that around 30m+ birds are released in the U.k. each year on estates where shooting attracts large amounts of revenue.

They are found in a wide variety of habitat which includes woodland, farmland, scrub, grassland with scattered trees. 


The order galliformes to which the pheasant belongs contains around 256 species world wide. The order contains  the turkey, grouse,quail,chickens and guinea fowl. They feed on a wide variety of animal and vegetable food. Fruits, seeds, leaves, invertebrates, snakes, lizards, and small mammals. They are bred to be hunted and shot at which involves great numbers of the birds. This has led to intense farming of the species on estates where gamekeepers keep away predators. because of these vast numbers some are bound to escape into the wider countryside and even semi urban locations where they find refuge from the guns. It is not uncommon in my own village to hear the throaty call of the pheasant reverberating around neighbouring gardens.

There are many types of pheasant some much more colourful and exotic than others. However, here it is the common pheasants that are under review.  


These large birds average from 55-90cm long of which half is the tail and the males are larger than the females.

The males weigh one to one and a half kilos. the females from three quarters to one kilo. The male has a head and neck of a bottle green colour often tinged with blue with small ear tufts. The chest and throat and cheeks are glossed purple. Sometimes a white collar or half collar at the base of the neck depending on the type. red wattles around the eyes are a salient feature.

the rest of the body varies from copper red to a golden-orange variously marked with black, however, the rump is a uniform colouring sometimes blue. The wing coverts may also be white in some species. The long tail is strongly barred black. The strong feet which are hen like are used for scratching and for perching in trees at night where they roost. the strong legs help them to run at surprising speeds.

In relation to the size of its body the wings are short; the tail medium long; neck medium; bill short;legs short. the bill is a pale greenish colour.The legs are greyish. the pheasant often runs to avoid people and predators but will readily rocket upwards with remarkable speed when startled or the predator gets to close.

basically there are no pure bred pheasants in Britain but, broadly speaking cocks with with white collars can be counted as of Chinese origin P.torquatus and those without collars as Caucasian origin P.colchius. The latter are often mistakenly referred to as old English pheasants.

The females of all species are of a dullish brown colour streaked with degrees of brown. 

The male Pheasant in all his splendour

Courtesy of gary noon Flickr.  CC BY-SA 2.0 generic license.

Life cycle of the pheasant.

The breeding season may commence as early as late January especially in the south of the U.K. The males can be heard crowing noisily as they display their courting plumage to the females. The red wattles around the eyes and the small ear tufts are raised to good affect during this display.

Where there is an abundance of mixed sexed birds they tend to form pairs. However, in areas where there are more females than males harems are formed. In this case the male will defend his "troop" from intruding males.

                                            NEST AND EGGS

During mild springs and once again in the south of the country nests will be made and may well be occupied with eggs during the month of March.  Here in the north of England the task of nest building will commence during late March and early April. the pheasant normally lays her eggs on the ground among long grass or other herbage or at the foot of a bush. the nest itself does not amount to much being a scrape in the ground loosely lined with dead grasses or leaves. now and then an ambitious female may choose a bale of hay on which she will lay her eggs.

The eggs are a characteristic with smooth surfaces and a brownish olive colouring but bluish white varieties do occur at times.The batch may vary in number also, they may contain between 8-16. Any more than this is likely to be because two females have laid their eggs in the same nest.  The eggs are laid at a rate of one per day. Incubation carried out by the female may take 23-28 days.  Fledging occurs in about 11-13 days. In the north of England the chicks may be encountered during May from about Mid May onwards. Many chicks are lost to predation and so replacement clutches may be attempted through may and even June.


below--the chicks in this picture are about one hour old. Photograph courtesy of Magnus Manske {Creative Commons Share Alike}. Bottom pheasants are bred in great numbers for shoots.Photograph courtesy of snak01 {Creative Commons Share alike}

Life cycle continued.

The chicks hatch simultaneously and scatter from the nest being capable of running and feeding for themselves. They are also able to fly at a surprisingly early age. They are covered in a dense buff coloured down marked with streaks and blotches with provide an excellent camouflage so important to ground nesting species. Being closely related to chickens they behave in a similar manner scratching and pecking for food.

The mother and chicks can stay together for six weeks or more. early clutches can be full grown by late August. The female is a caring mother but the male seldom has anything to do with upbringing of his offspring. 


October heralds the start of the official shooting season in the U.K.(12th of August for grouse}. At this time males are approaching their prime. The shooting season lasts from October and ends in February. It is against the law to shoot them outside of these months.

As winter's progress marches on the pheasants will form flocks of between 5-20 birds loosely  grouped together.

Young pheasant-photograph courtesy of Dave Herr

Courtesy of Wild Vision.  Pheasant in focus Thorpe Marsh Nature Reserve


Pheasant numbers

Pheasants and especially males may be often be seen out in the open during the close season, but they are seldom far from trees, which they take to with a powerful whirring of their wings and a throaty call when danger threatens.

Pheasant numbers--1,800,000 - 1,900,000 females in 2000. {source B.T.O.}

They are an introduced breeding species, others that are commonly encountered are the species P.torquatus. P.mongolicus. P. principates.

The genus name Phasianus, derives from the Greek Phasianos  ornis meaning a Phasian bird. Named after the River phasis in the Colchis region of Asia Minor  where they were discovered which also gives rise to the species name of colchicus.

The word pheasant derives from the old French fesan.


There is now an in depth article [ over 2,300 words ] on the common pheasant that can be viewed by visiting http://hub.me/agJeC

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UK conservation status 2021.

UK- Not assessed.

Europe- Species of least concern. 

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